Expose the true powers behind the French Revolution.
PC Release: November 11, 2014
By Ian Coppock
Alright, so… the reason why this review is even happening is because I’m a completionist, and because I wanted to explore for myself just how bad this game is alleged to be. A curiosity that was about 75% shits and giggles and 25% Steam discount, both of which compelled me to give Assassin’s Creed Unity a fair shot. Much as I enjoy sharpening my claws on bad games that deserve it, we’re going to take a critical look at everything that Unity did right, and that it did wrong.
And then break out the claws if need be.
Assassin’s Creed Unity was released last fall on current-gen consoles and PC, and takes the Assassin’s Creed mythos to the French Revolution. Arno Dorian, a young Frenchman whose Assassin father was murdered when he was a child, is unwittingly raised by an affluent Templar family living in Versailles. Arno is the spitting image of Ezio Auditore; young, handsome, with little care in the world save alcohol, gambling and girls. Again… just like Ezio… Arno’s next of kin are brutally murdered and he flees into the European underground, where he joins up with the Assassins.
Each Assassin’s Creed game also features a modern-day protagonist, and rather than being another Abstergo analyst, you are instead a silent gamer exploring Arno’s experiences via a Templar-made console. The modern Assassins contact you and recruit you into a hacking collective called the Initiates, in order to gather data to help bring down Abstergo.
Arno joins the Brotherhood at a critical moment in French history. The French crown’s sagging debt and indifference to its subjects launches the French Revolution, plunging Paris and all of France into chaos. Amid a city rolling over in its rapidly-deepening grave, Arno is tasked with investigating the murder of his adoptive Templar father, since the Assassins, for once, had nothing to do with it.
If the words you’re reading right now sound familiar and faded, that’s because they are. This is the same goddamn plot premise used in almost every AC game to date. Unity is only the latest game to execute it, but for Christ’s sake, Ubisoft, I’m nine games into this series. Can’t we start things off with something besides avenging the death of a loved one?
For all its re-hashing of exhausted concepts, Unity does introduce a new story idea: inter-faction conflict. Arno suspects that his adoptive family’s demise was an inside job, and discovers that the Templars are locked in a brutal civil war between “the old guard” who want to continue relying on the monarchy and nobility to attain power, and a new faction who recognizes the growing importance of capitalism and think this a greater means to glory. The French Assassins are also shown to be divided, between those seeking peace with the Templars and others who think such a thing is impossible.
The discovery of this story element was a pleasant one. Another way in which the Assassin’s Creed series has become rote is the single viewpoint shared by all followers of each faction. Introducing competing viewpoints turns Unity (ironic, considering the name) into a five or six-way war instead of the weary two-sided conflict we’ve now seen eight times before. Does it save the game’s story? Maybe not. But it did keep me playing a lot longer.
Apart from this one narrative element, there’s nothing in Unity‘s story that we haven’t seen in previous Assassin’s Creed games. In addition to the standard revenge-driven plot, we have the standard boy-to-man character evolution, the standard side missions with wacky objectives, and the standard all-important hunt for more mother-flipping Pieces of Eden. The pre-human artifacts with magical powers have become less an intrigue of the series and more a yawn.
The characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity change very little. Arno is basically a carbon-copy of Ezio Auditore with half the charm, a move that I suspect Ubisoft made to recapture the glory of days long gone. Even after he witnesses his family get murdered, he remains a pretentious little shit whose jokes fall flat and his arrogance even flatter. Whereas Ezio’s humor felt natural and well-placed, Arno’s just feels forced. The other characters in this game occupy worn-down niches that we’ve, again, seen before. We have the protagonist’s gruff practice instructor, and the Templars, despite their division, are just the latest iteration of greedy old men. Nobody in this game is really that likable.
The other thing I don’t understand about the characters in Unity is that they’re all voiced by British actors, which I’m sure amused the Brits and offended the French to no end. Nothing made me laugh like hearing a guy with a Cockney accent trying to pronounce “sacre bleu”. To make matters more amusing, the voice actors use British vernacular as well as accents. No French person on this planet says “Oy, I’ll rip yer bloody cockles off, you pillock!”
Goddamn ridiculous. You hired Italian accents for Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft. What’s wrong with the French? YOU’RE French, for Christ’s sake.
Unity shares a lot more with players than the aspirations of its character creation. The entire game is set in revolutionary-era Paris, as Brotherhood was Renaissance Rome. Though the city itself is gorgeous, and the area map is huge, Unity is still on a much smaller scale than Black Flag or Rogue. Unity also gets rid of the ass-kicking ship navigation mechanics we’ve seen these last few games. No boats for you, you Frenchie landlubber.
And though Paris is gorgeous to look at, the in-game map is decidedly less so. The game’s main story is but a twig in the match pile of side activities, collectibles and other doodads that your map hopelessly drowns in. Treasure chests return, as we’d all expect, as well as over 100 side missions that, despite all being relatively similar, are grouped into like four different categories. Unity introduces Arkham Asylum-style murder mysteries, which I really enjoyed, but everything else is, again, nothing new. The same old go-kill-this-random-guy, the same old tail-that-lady, the same old find-this-artifact…
Same old.. same old…
So does Unity actually make any changes to this tired old formula? Actually, yes it does, and one of the best ones is the combat. I’ve mocked Assassin’s Creed combat in the past for being far too easy. You wait for a guy to swing his sword, counter-kill him, and then chain-kill all his buddies without skipping a beat. Combat in Unity is much tougher; you have a very slim window for counter-attacking and your enemies are far more dangerous. Some are able to kill you in just a few hits.
This was a change I commend Unity for making, and not just because it makes the combat more of a challenge. It also forces players to actually play stealth, which is something the Assassin’s Creed series, even in its heyday, never did very well. Arno can crouch and take cover behind objects, and you’ll need it. You can no longer just waltz in and kill everyone without breaking a sweat, and that’s a good thing, because a game about assassins should have stealth be its main focus. I never tried the co-op mode, because my Steam friends are too smart to buy this game and the randoms would probably have bumbled their way into my assassination path.
Unity may have been rote or re-hashed in most gameplay areas, but the shift in combat difficulty was a refreshing and badly needed change. It only took Ubisoft nine games to fix that. Well done.
Unity‘s introduction of a more interesting backstory and better combat does not justify the state this game was released in. Gamers the world over reported endless slews of bugs, from character model errors to random crashes.
Does the game work now? Yes, it works, but I wouldn’t say it works well. Five patches later, Assassin’s Creed Unity still suffers from occasional framerate drops, especially during cutscenes, which makes absolutely no sense. I was able to lift the framerate lock, but Unity‘s focus on creating hundreds of people throughout the streets of Paris makes the game hard to chug. I appreciate the attempt at realism, but realism should not compromise game performance. This all happened on a machine that costs as much as four PlayStation 4s and is equipped with the best gaming tech out there. You shouldn’t need a machine that powerful to get a video game to just barely run.
Apart from that, I encountered a lot of bugs that had me shaking my head. I regularly saw people walking four feet above the ground. Characters popped in and out of existence, sometimes just in time for me to crash into while fleeing angry guards. Objects floating in the breeze would suddenly freeze and fall as if they’d been transmuted into lead. The game crashed twice while loading up cutscenes. All of this I encountered after Ubisoft released five patches to fix things up.
The patches did manage to fix a few things that Ubisoft actually did on purpose, like introducing a companion app that you need to open treasure chests. That app is no longer required, but the need for a companion app is perhaps the most obnoxious design choice I’ve ever seen. The other interfaces in this game are hidden in a bewildering array of menus that are not much more intuitive.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is not as much a disaster as when it first launched, but it’s still a disaster. I don’t know why the series took such a huge step back from the clever writing and refreshing simplicity of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I have no idea how the hell Ubisoft allowed itself to disrespect its fans and its biggest series so completely. I also don’t know how to describe Unity as anything other than a bug-ridden rehash that offers one plus for every ten minuses, and almost no new story concepts. Even the Dead Kings campaign, a DLC that Ubisoft included with Unity for free as a peace offering, is as rote and mediocre as the main portion of the game.
Even if you’re a hardcore fan of this series (a title I bear with a mixture of pride and shame), Assassin’s Creed Unity is simply not worth it. I do not recommend this title.
You can buy Assassin’s Creed Unity here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.